Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

Home of the This Is Not Normal podcast, Bill Scher columns and other liberal commentary

Month: July 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Your Call Radio: Health Care & The Media

Earlier today I participated in a roundtable discussion of the week’s media coverage of the health care debate, on Your Call Radio, which aired on KALW in San Francisco.
You can hear the full show at this link.

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks out on health care reform

Former Kansas Governor and now Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote an op-ed that appears in Yahoo! News. The sentiment of the article is correct. The current system is not sustainable. She then mentions a degree of consensus around “cost controls, guaranteed coverage and providing more choices.” (I’m not sure what providing more choices really means because I believe that all Americans just want excellent healthcare. One choice.) She then goes ahead and point out the problem of 46 million Americans not being covered and millions more being underinsured. She correctly points out that Republicans are obstructing the process. Right here is where the good article ends and the murky article begins.
She talks about more affordable choices. She does not stand up strongly for a public option. She does not mention that the most affordable option with low overhead and a guarantee that insurance companies can’t weasel out of it is a single-payer (government payer) system. I cannot think of anything that is more affordable than saving $700 billion by creating a single-payer system. There’s no other proposal on Capitol Hill that will save this kind of money.

She is correct in saying, “we have to align incentives for doctors and hospitals.” I have stated this differently. I have said that we need to pay primary care physicians and hospitals differently. They need to be paid to take care of a population of patients. Therefore, you remove the incentive of ordering a bunch of tests or seeing patients over and over again if they don’t need to be seen that often.

By creating a single-payer system, we are all invested in each other’s health. We want physicians to be proactive and not just treat us we were sick. Therefore, I have proposed that primary care physicians who keep a population of patients healthy (keeping diabetes under control, controlling hypertension and the like) should be paid bonuses. You can call these bonuses — wellness bonuses. Physicians and hospitals we were awarded for instituting programs which keep people healthy.
I understand in this political environment that many Democrats are afraid of the single-payer system. They need not be afraid. Instead, they need to embrace the single-payer system and explain it so that people understand that they keep their doctor, they keep their same hospital. Those choices do not change. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has written a good article but she needs to go the next step. We need leadership from her, from President Obama, from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

The Week In Blog: New Logo Edition

The latest edition of The Week In Blog is up at (with slick new logo!), featuring Matt Lewis and myself discussing blog reaction to the health care debate and the growing Birther conspiracy theory movement. Watch it below.

Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid: We need leadership on healthcare.

Several years ago, when the Democrats took over the House, they elected Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker. I thought that was an interesting choice. (Interesting, in this context, is not really a compliment.) When Harry Reid was chosen to lead the Democrats in the Senate, I thought it was odd. Now, as we look back over the last three years, what is the tough legislation that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have guided through Congress? Nothing. We have not been able to end the war in Iraq. As a matter of fact, we’re still there. We have not held hearings on torture, or former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, or the outing of Valerie Plame, or domestic spying, or even our election system, for that matter. All of these issues take political will and leadership. Now, we need leadership on healthcare and these guys are, again, AWOL.
Aaron Carroll on the Colbert Report:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Aaron Carroll
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Tasers

There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that healthcare is difficult. In order to do healthcare right, several special interests must be directly confronted. Neither Harry Reid nor Nancy Pelosi have stuck their necks out to say that we are giving way too much money to health insurance companies. No one is saying that health insurance companies do not add any value to our healthcare dollar. This is what needs to be said. Instead of leadership on this issue, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are nearly invisible.

We, as Americans, should not take half-measures. If we are going to truly reform healthcare, then let’s reform healthcare. By moving to a single-payer system, Americans save over $700 billion. This money then can be used to cover the 46 million Americans who are currently not covered by any insurance plan. This would provide basic medical insurance for all Americans. This does not require any special tax on the wealthy. It does not require any additional funds from the middle class. Even while not spending an extra dime, we can cover all Americans. Why isn’t Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi saying this on the Sunday talk shows every week?

When is somebody going to stand up and say that immigration reform is part of healthcare reform? Hello, Harry and Nancy, I’m talking to you!! Out of the 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance, somewhere around 12 to 15 million are economic refugees (illegal immigrants); therefore, these two topics are linked. When is a politician going to stand up and tell us this? That would be leadership. Informing the American people and leading Congress through potential pitfalls is what we’re paying the majority leader and the Speaker of the House to do and they ain’t doin’ it.
Finally, if we are able to negotiate some basic tort reform, physicians will begin to order less tests. Americans instantly save billions of dollars. The quality of healthcare doesn’t change. As a matter fact, you can argue, that the quality of health care may improve.
Today we learned that the Blue Dogs and Republicans have worked out some sort of agreement that there will be no vote on healthcare reform before the August recess. Fine. We (progressives) need to organize. We need to push for a single-payer system. We need to write and fax Congress. We don’t need to spend any more of our hard-earned money on garbage. This latest bill that came out of the Senate is 1000 pages of garbage. We need to tell our representatives that they need to start with a clean piece of paper. Then, they need to write down the goals of healthcare reform — portable, efficient and cost-effective. These should be the goals. Co-ops do not meet these goals. Some sort of public-private hybrid is not efficient or cost-effective. No American should have to pay anymore money than we’re paying now for healthcare. $2.2 trillion is enough. 16% for gross domestic product is enough. A single-payer system is the only way to meet the goals of a portable, efficient and cost-effective healthcare system.
It is time for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to listen to what Americans want – single-payer. They need to lead Congress and make this happen.

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Everyone’s A Racist Edition

The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast today at 12 noon on WHMP in Western MA. This week’s show featured Eric Lotke, author of the futuristic, political adventure tale 2044 (available at iUniverse and, WHMP’s Bill Dwight on how everybody’s still racist, the debut of our progressive parenting feature “Momtroversies” with Traci Olsen of Olsen Design and myself on how August is the critical month for the health care battle.
You can download the podcast at these links: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).
And as an added bonus, a free download of author Eric Lotke reading Chapter 1 of 2044.

The LiberalOasis Radio Show: Annual John Hodgman Edition

The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast today at 12 noon on WHMP in Western MA. Our special guest for the entirety of the show was John Hodgman, resident expert on The Daily Show, and author most recently of “More Information Than You Require.”. He discussed his famous address to Radio & TV Correspondents Dinner, as well as matters of national import: Sonia Sotomayor, health care and the possibility of a second stimulus.
You can download the podcast at these links: (iTunes / XML feed / MP3).

Prior to the Invasion of Iraq, America Was Like a Runaway Train

I will still submit that State of War: The Secret History of the CIA And the Bush Administration by James Risen is a great book, one that I’ve highly recommended. It is simply one of the best books I’ve read about the Bush administration in the last three or four years. I keep referring to that book over and over again. The book recounts a number of scenarios that the CIA tried prior to the invasion of Iraq in order to really delineate whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. One of those efforts focused on an anesthesiologist named Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad. Her brother was a nuclear weapons scientist who worked on weapons of mass destruction for Saddam Hussein. The CIA actually flew her to Baghdad in September 2002. She spoke with her brother in person and on the telephone. He told her in no uncertain terms that there was no nuclear program. In all, the CIA flew more than 30 people to Iraq in order to meet with their family members. All of them came back with the same information, that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

It appears that the intelligence community actually did their jobs. They actually tried to find out the answer. There was no failure of intelligence but a failure of leadership.

From across the pond, Britain’s own MI6 had a meeting with the head of Iraqi intelligence prior to our invasion. Michael Shipster, of MI6, met with the head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, who gave the British everything that they needed to know. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein was worried about his image in the region. He was also worried about Iran and other competitors in the region. All of this information was immediately passed to the White House. All of this is recounted in Ron Suskind’s book, The Way of the World.
So, the White House “knew” that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion. They had information from multiple sources which stated that Saddam Hussein was not reconstituting a nuclear, biological or chemical weapons program. Yet we still went to war. Why? Don’t President Bush and Vice President Cheney need to answer this question in front of the American people? With over 4300 Americans dead, shouldn’t Bush and Cheney have to say something to us and to the families of those who have died beause of these actions?
Update from Political Animal:
Fester at Newhoggers links to a set of right-wing bloggers’ predictions for 2003. It’s pretty stunning. For instance:

If we go into Iraq, how many casualties do you expect to see (on the side of the US and our allies)
John Hawkins: “Probably 300 or less”
Charles Johnson:”Very few”
Henry Hanks: “Less than 200”
Laurence Simon: “A Few hundred”
Rachael Lucas: “Less than three thousand”
Scott Ott: “Dozens”
Glenn Reynolds: “Fewer than 100”
Tim Blair: “Below 50”
Ken Layne: “a few hundred”
Steven Den Beste: “50-150”

More from another pre-war interview with Tim Blair:

“John Hawkins: If and when do you see the United States hitting Iraq? How do you think it’ll work out?
Tim Blair: It all depends on Iraqi’s fearsome Elite Republican Guard. Why, those feisty desert warriors could hold out for minutes. Dozens of US troops will be required. Perhaps they’ll even need their weapons.”

The Week in Blog: TPM Conspiracy Edition

The latest edition of The Week In Blog is up at featuring Matt Lewis and myself discussing blog complicity in the Gov. Sanford scandal, and blog reaction to the Sotomayor hearings, health care debate and Sarah Palin’s climate oped. Watch it below.

CNN’s State of the Union – where is Congress on health care reform?

I get so frustrated listening to the health care debate that I can only listen to it in small bits. So, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander is talking about taxing something if you are ready have the “Cadillac” of health insurance plans. What the heck is that? Any health insurance plan is offered in 2009 is a fraction of what was offered in 1989. There are no Cadillac insurance plans anymore. Then, he talks about some plan in which the government gives Americans money (I guess in tax breaks or tax rebates) in which to buy health insurance. This is got to be a popular plan with the insurance companies.
Wolf Blitzer, who for the most part is clueless, states that in order to get coverage this will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. The statement is simply wrong. The statement should be in order to keep giving insurance companies are money we will need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars. If we exclude insurance companies universal coverage will not cost any more than we’re paying now.
Embedded video from CNN Video
Senator Judd Gregg asked a good question but then has a stupid answer. Why are going to spend more money on healthcare? We are already spending enough (my answer not his). Senator Gregg is a 100% wrong when he states that there are good studies which suggest if you give patients incentives that will purchase better healthcare. This is simply wrong. It is wrong in a number of ways — first, the majority of patients do not want to go through some complex permutation of healthcare plans to decide what’s best for them. Secondly, Senator Gregg is asking patients to project into the future of what they’re healthcare problems will be. As a trauma surgeon, I can tell you that most people do not plan on seeing me. Most people think of themselves as careful and thoughtful.

Senator Judd Gregg then launches into the fear tactics that Republicans have been using for nearly 18 years on healthcare reform. He suggests that they healthcare in Canada or England is awful. He suggests that a single-payer system would lead to rationing of health care. One of the things that he doesn’t say is that currently insurance companies are rationing healthcare as we speak. They are deciding what to pay for and what not to pay for. So, the current system that we have not only rations but puts a for-profit company (insurance) between you and your doctor. The single-payer system puts nothing between you and your doctor. What could be simpler?

Update: Senator Judd Gregg also had some disturbing statistics about breast cancer in England and the United States and survival rates. Fortunately, there’s something called the Internet. You can look up the survival rates in England and the survival rates here in the United States. The survival rates in England are actually better than they are here in the US. This really should not be a surprise to anyone. Everybody in England has insurance. A large number of Americans do not have insurance. These Americans present later, with more advanced disease and have poorer outcomes. This drives down the overall survival rate.
Senator Conrad is still pushing these co-ops as viable alternatives. It is clear that these co-ops are not viable alternatives and would be crushed by insurance companies. I talked about the utter stupidity of this co-op option. I haven’t changed my mind.
The bottom line in this healthcare debate is obvious. Confused, obfuscate and dance around the issue. The issue is simply this — do health insurance companies add value to healthcare? If the answer is yes then we need to spend time talking about healthcare co-ops in some sort of hybrid plan to get everyone covered. If the answer is no, then we need to quit wasting time talking about giving tax rebates to people so that they can afford insurance. Senator Stabenow understands the problem completely. She’s the only one on the show that made any sense.

Interview with EPI’s Heidi Shierholz about jobs and the stimulus

If president Barack Obama has any thoughts of becoming a two-term president, he has got to create jobs. The jobs numbers for June were not abysmal but they weren’t good either. I talk with Dr. Heidi Shierholz from the Economic Policy Institute. She is a Masters and Ph.D. in economics.
Click here to listen to this interview.
The American economy has now lost 6.5 million jobs since the start of this recession. Last month we lost 467,000 jobs. During the first quarter of this year we lost an average of 691,000 jobs per month. So the jobs market may be improving. I mean were losing jobs at a slower rate. This is of little comfort to those were losing jobs.

Most of the job losses are being suffered in those areas of the economy that are cyclical — construction and manufacturing. Unfortunately, men tend to gravitate to these types of jobs. Men have been particularly hurt by this economic downturn. The unemployment rate for all men is 10.6%. For women it is 8.3%. The unemployment rate in the Black community is 14.7%, the Hispanic community – 12.2% and the white community – 8.7%.

We heard lots of happy talk last month when the economy lost only 345,000 jobs in May (I still find it weird to say that we lost ONLY 345,000 jobs). The New York Times quoted chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group, Stuart Hoffman as saying, “The freefall in the job market does appear to be tapering off. If the prelude to an economic and job recovery later this year.”
We, as progressives, must watch this new climate change Bill. It has to have plenty of money for green jobs. This has to act as a second stimulus, in my opinion. Dr. Shierholz mentions that this economic downturn is far from over. We will begin to see increases in our GDP and in the stock market before will see significant job creation. Significant job creation may not be until the third quarter of next year.
In spite of the depressing news, this is an excellent interview on the economy. Enjoy.
Click here to listen to this interview.
The Errington Thompson show airs every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. (EST). Live streaming. Podcasts can be heard on iTunes and here.

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